You know those little plastic “tables” that protect pizza cheese from cardboard boxes? They were invented in 1985.
And just as Carmela Vitale was securing the patent, I was in Atlantic City, watching Maw and Paw torch my future.
I often joke about how I grew up on the thinly-carpeted floors of Atlantic City casinos. In truth, my parents didn’t gamble that much – it’s just that the trips were so memorable for me.
The better ones would come later, when I was finally old enough to roam around unsupervised. But this was 1985. I was tiny, trusting and not to be left alone. In a rare switch from the norm, my father walked me around the boardwalk while my mother went for the jackpot.
We ended up at the boardwalk’s shopping mall, which was built to look like a huge cruise ship. Though that mall still stands, it’s since been remodeled and filled with “high class” stores. But back then? Forget it. It was a kid’s paradise. Giant arcade, food court full of everything, and of course, Kay-Bee Toys.
This was not a normal Kay-Bee. I mean, maybe it was in 1985, but by the ‘90s, holy shit. Those of you who remember Kay-Bee know that it wasn’t very good about getting “old stock” off of the racks. The toys may have been ten years old, but they’d still try to sell them, with drastic clearance prices hastily scribbled in red ink. This Kay-Bee was like that, but TO THE EXTREME. It was like an antique shop without the antique shop prices.
But that’s another story. If it was that way back in ’85, I didn’t notice.
What I did notice, was this. And since those Atlantic City trips made it so easy to bribe my parents, I got it. A few bucks for some Gremlins figures was certainly a fair trade for a kid who’d remain calm and patient in Atlantic City.
The Gremlins Collectible Figures set may have been the first “Gremlins thing” I ever owned. I still remember baking under the flashing lights of Caesar’s, totally oblivious to everything else as I fiddled with my little Mogwais.
I’ve put off this review for more than a year, believing that there wouldn’t be much to it beyond a couple of toy photos. Yesterday, I came across the set again, and started thinking about what each figure really meant to me. Turns out, they meant plenty. So let’s roll.
Gizmo: The Star.
I’ve grown to enjoy monsters, but back then, my obsession with Gremlins only had to do with Gizmo. Having a pet Mogwai was my biggest fantasy, and while the larger figures and squeaky plush dolls would later make for better surrogates, this tiny thing was my first chance to pretend I did.
I carried this figure everywhere. I was totally obsessed with it. When we ate dinner, there was Gizmo, standing an inch from my plate and reminding me that it wasn’t past midnight. I didn’t think of it as a “toy,” and I certainly didn’t treat it like one. To me, it was as alive as our dog, and a hundred times cuter. Sorry, Sandy.
The bad news? It didn’t take long for me to lose him. I’m sure many of you can relate to the mutant Murphy’s Law that always seemed to apply to the toys we loved the most. Since my overall happiness was dependent on a 3” Gizmo figure, of course I was going to lose it. Of course!
I looked everywhere, and because there’s nothing worse than a panicked child tearing the house apart, so did everyone else. There was no sign of Gizmo. It was as if he’d vanished into thin air. I came up with all sorts of conspiracy theories, all of which put the blame on everyone but me.
“It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Sure, okay. But I didn’t need to learn that when I was fucking five.
Stripe: The Fake Gizmo.
In retrospect, “Stripe in Mogwai form” was the three-pack’s best figure. If there have been other toys/dolls/whatever based on him, I haven’t seen them. (Well, until two seconds ago.)
If you’ve never seen the film, Stripe was the lead villain: The sort-of-son of Gizmo who’d later become a scaly, maniacal monster, bent on destroying the world.
Well, forget that. Once I lost Gizmo, Stripe had a new role. Ignoring the mohawk, I simply pretended that Stripe was Gizmo. I hated to do it, but these were desperate times. Sadly, my plan didn’t work so well. Stripe looked too naughty, and he seemed to be doing some kind of gorilla pantomime.
This arrangement didn’t last long. No matter how much I squinted, Stripe could never be Gizmo. He never looked up at me with the same love and respect. He just seemed annoyed, and like he was up to something. Damn.
Gremlin Stripe: The Constant.
I wanted the three-pack for the Mogwais. “Gremlin Stripe” was a nice bonus, but that’s all he was. Of course, since that’s the figure I had no special connection to, Stripe managed to stay intact forever. I still have my original in a bin somewhere. He’s dulled, chipped and probably even chewed, but he’s still here. One of the very few toys that survived my childhood.
It’s really weird to see a “fresh” Stripe. I’d completely forgotten how shiny he used to be.
Oddly, the package only referred to him as “Gremlin.” LJN called the Stripe Mogwai “Stripe,” but the Stripe Gremlin “Gremlin.” Was this an oversight or a choice? I’ve wanted to know the answer for almost thirty goddamned years.
There have been plenty of Gremlins figures released since then. Bigger and better ones, with articulated limbs and ridiculous accessories. Whatever. They’ll never top these three for me. How could they? I’ve become too old to live in a world that revolves around tiny chunks of stinking rubber, covered in cheap, flaking paint. You can only get away with that when you’re little.
But you’re crazy if you think I’m going to lose Gizmo twice. I’ll glue him to my forehead if I have to.